Allies of Niger’s ousted president are pleading with the United States and others: Save his life


Washington (AFP) – After nearly three weeks of pleading with the United States and other allies for Help return the President of Niger to powerFriends and supporters of the democratically elected leader make a simpler plea: Save his life.

President Mohamed Bazoum, the last leader of a Western-allied democracy across a vast expanse of Africa’s Sahara and Sahel, sits with his family in the unlit basement of his presidential compound, cut off from the resupply of food, electricity and cooking gas by the council, Niger’s ambassador to the United States told the Associated Press. the military who overthrew him.

“They are killing him,” said Ambassador Mamadou Kyari Lyman Tengeri, a close aide who has daily contact with the detained leader. The two have been colleagues for three decades, ever since the 63-year-old president was a young philosophy teacher, leader of a teachers’ union, and advocate of democracy known for its eloquence.

“The junta chief’s plan is to starve him to death,” Lyman Tingiri told the Associated Press in one of the first interviews he has given since rebel forces cut off food supplies to the president, his wife and a 20-year-old. Son about a week ago.

“This is inhumane,” said the ambassador, “and the world should not tolerate that.” “It cannot be tolerated in 2023.”

On Saturday, the president’s kidnappers allowed a doctor to visit the family for the first time, and they brought some food, a presidential adviser told the Associated Press. The adviser, who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to elaborate.

Bazoum is sitting in the dark basement, said the ambassador. He answers the phone when a call comes in that he knows is his friend or someone else he wants to talk to. The embattled president and his ambassador, whom the junta members have declared unemployed, speak once or more a day.

Bazoum has not been seen in public since July 26, when military vehicles closed the gates to the presidential palace and security forces announced they would take power. The president’s circumstances cannot be determined independently. The United States, the United Nations and others have repeatedly expressed concern about what they have described as “bazoom”. deteriorating conditions He is in custody, and the junta is warned that they will hold him responsible for the welfare of Bazoum and his family.

Separately, Human Rights Watch said on Friday that it has spoken directly to the detained president and others in his circle, and has received similar accounts of mistreatment.

However, an activist who supports Niger’s new military rulers said in his contacts that reports of the president’s dire condition were false. Insa Garba Saido said he had been in contact with some members of the military council but did not say how he knew about the president.

“Bazoum was lucky that he wasn’t taken anywhere,” Saido said. “He was left in his palace with his phone. Those who did this do not intend to harm Bazoum.”

The military coup in Niger and the plight of its deposed leader have captured global attention – but not because this kind of upheaval is unusual for West Africa. Niger alone has experienced about half a dozen military takeovers since independence in 1960. Niger’s leaders have suffered coups before, most notably when the same Presidential Guard unit that instigated the current coup deposed a military-appointed commander in 1999.

Niger’s return to reflexive armed takeovers by disaffected forces resonates in the United States and internationally for two main reasons. One of them is that Bazoum came to power in a rare democratic presidential election in Africa’s unstable Sahara and Sahel, in the only peaceful and democratic transfer of power that Niger has managed.

The United States alone has invested nearly a billion dollars in Niger in recent years to support its democracy and provide aid, in addition to building national forces capable of repelling armed groups allied with Al Qaeda and ISIS in North and West Africa.

The US-backed anti-terrorism presence is the second major reason why the Niger coup resonates. The Americans have a security presence of 1,100 soldiers, and they have built bases in the capital of Niger and far north in their main outposts to confront armed jihadist groups in West Africa. The Biden administration has not yet called what happened in Niger a coup, citing laws that would require the United States to cut many of its military partnerships with the country.

The Niger region is dominated by the military or military-allied governments, and a growing number of them have entered into security partnerships with Russian Wagner mercenary groups.

The soldiers who overthrew Zum declared a ruling structure but did not speak publicly much about their plans. US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland met members of Niger’s military junta in the capital this week, but described them as unresponsive to her demands for the restoration of democracy in Niger.

“They’ve been firm about the way they want to proceed, and that doesn’t support Niger’s constitution,” Nuland told reporters afterwards.

US officials told the Associated Press that the military council told Nuland that Bazoum would die if the ECOWAS regional security bloc intervened militarily to restore democracy.

Late this week, the ambassador brushed off the threat, saying the junta was already on its way to killing Bzoum by besieging him and his family with little more than a short supply of dried rice and no way to cook it.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke several times with the detained president and expressed concern for his and his family’s safety. The United States says it has cut some aid to the government and halted military cooperation. Blinken expressed broad support for the Economic Community of West African States, whose diplomatic efforts have been rejected by Niger’s junta and warned against the use of military force as a last resort.

In a statement Friday, Blinken said he was “particularly troubled” that rebel Niger soldiers refused to release Bazoum’s family as a goodwill gesture. He did not elaborate.

While Junta advisor Saidu denied that the Junta had threatened to kill Bazoum if ECOWAS invaded, he said that Bazoum’s death would be inevitable if that happened.

“Even if the high-ranking officers of the junta did not touch Bazoum, if a gun was shot on a Niger border in order to bring Bazoum back, I am sure there would be soldiers who would put an end to his life,” he said.

Bazoum told Human Rights Watch that family members and friends who brought food were refused, and that the military council refused to treat his young son, who had a heart condition.

Bazoum and his allies who could not be found want regional partners, the United States and others, to step in. With Bazoum endangered in captivity, neither he nor the ambassadors determine what they want the United States and other allies to do.

Bazoum is a member of Niger’s nomadic Arab minority, in a multicultural country rich in traditions. Despite his political career, Liman Tengeri said, Bazoum maintained the devotion of his people to livestock breeding, raising camels that he loved.

Despite all the deprivations he has been subjected to, the ambassador said, Bazoum is still in good spirits. “He’s a very mentally strong guy,” he said. “He is a man of faith.”


Writer Sam Mednick contributed to the Associated Press from Niamey, Niger.

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